Alexandria Letter: Preserving History, More than a Month

Alexandria Letter: Preserving History, More than a Month

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

May is Historic Preservation month, and I want to make it a meaningful month for Preservation in Alexandria. Recently the Alexandria Archeology Commission held an event at the city's history museum, The Lyceum, welcoming nominations to the first-ever list of threatened and endangered sites in Alexandria. This was an important event that was long overdue on a local level to help save places that help us tell the story of Alexandria. Not one member of the press was there, and no elected officials, just citizens, some of whom have been active for decades in preservation, each with a place that they wanted others to know is important to them.

There were obvious sites like the Appomattox Statue on Washington Street that is currently being studied by a task force, and then there were new discoveries like a section of railroad track along the original stretch of the Norfolk Southern Railway.

The three sites I nominated were the Ramsey Homes, 226 South Strand (Alexandria Marine Building), and the Old Town Movie Theater.

Ramsey Homes has already been approved for demolition by the City Council, who has also rezoned the property for greater density and there is a plan to redevelop it for affordable housing. But one building could be saved, restored and added as a resource to the Black History Museum, the only museum in the Parker Gray Historic District.

The Old Town Movie Theater, after changing ownership, has languished, with seemingly no concern from elected officials, and combined with other vacancies on King Street is a drag instead of a draw for visitors.

Lastly, The Alexandria Marine Building is slated for demolition, only to be replaced by some sort of visitor facility, because both the city and the developer of Robinson Terminal South lack the creativity and imagination to re-purpose it to something that would add to the waterfront instead of removing a historic piece of it. All they see is a neglected building that doesn't fit in the polished waterfront that has been proposed.

And, as far as I know, Bert Ely's suggestion to preserve, instead of demolish the existing Old Dominion Boat Club building at the foot of King Street — when the club moves to its new location, ( — has been ignored, even though as he suggested it would be the perfect place to display the ship found on the waterfront which is currently being preserved.

He suggests that the Alexandria Seaport Foundation could use the building. I also think this is where the Archeology Museum should move from its present location on the third floor of the Torpedo Factory, where probably far fewer people can find it. Alexandria is known for its extensive archeology, which has added greatly to our knowledge of American history.

On Jan. 8 of this year, I sent an email calling for a Preservation Roundtable to a number of people, including several city officials and I only heard back from one person. With all the excitement of Mercy Street, the 18th century ship and other issues like the Appomattox statue, I thought, as I still do, that preservationists must join forces, not just work and pursue our individual projects, but work together.

Alexandria is known for its history, and the exciting thing about history is it never ends. As Churchill said when asked what history is, "It's just one damn thing after another." Perhaps that is why we are always making new discoveries.

History should matter not just to preservationists, but to residents, businesses and our elected officials. It is why people visit Alexandria, so it drives our economy. It is why people live here, so it increases our home values. If we continue to create a walkable, livable environment celebrating our historic sites, across the city, than we are improving our economy, our businesses and enhancing where we live. You can participate by printing a sign saying "This Place Matters" and using the hashtag #thisplacematters, and sharing it on social media. You can download the materials at

Do what Jane Jacobs would do, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of her birth this year, and walk around and observe what you love about the city you live in.

Boyd Walker